Friday, February 19, 2016

Thoughts on DC Rebirth

DC Rebirth is exciting. The decision to have Geoff Johns - perhaps one of the most passionate DC guys on the planet - make the announcement was insanely wise. You could feel the raw emotion in his voice. You could SEE the love he has for the characters. And most importantly, to me, there was a feeling of wonder and optimism that has been sorely missing from the DC Universe.

I'm a lifetime DC Comics fan. I always have been. I always will be. So I'm always intrigued when DC tries something new in the form of a line-wide revamp. It's actually part of DC's DNA. Whether it was the introduction of the Silver Age characters, Crisis on Infinite Earths, Zero Hour, Final Crisis, One Year Later, Flashpoint, The New 52, DC You... part of the DC Universe is evolution and experimentation. Marvel does it too, but not quite to the extent of DC. No doubt each "event" is met with varying degrees of success and failure, but DC really puts itself out there in an effort to create something new.

I'm not going to get into stuff like editorial misconduct or how certain voices in comics feel about DC and some of their staff, this is purely about the universe and the business of said universe.

I'll also preface this by stating what should be obvious and needs to be fixed. Despite billion dollar movies and merchandise literally everywhere depicting the characters of DC, Marvel and so on, comic sales are in the tank. They suck. We're talking about an industry where the most popular books once sold over a million copies and now? The best-selling book barely cracks 250,000 copies.

There are a number of factors to this. Certainly price is one of them - single issues are at minimum $2.99 compared to under a buck of days past. But one of the biggest problems is distribution. But I think the other problem is content (this is a point for a later post). I do believe that comics need to go back to being able to tell an entire story within the confines of a single issue. Sure graphic novel and trade sales do decently, but that isn't going to sustain the industry. I do think there is a place both for multi-issue arcs, and standalone stories.

I digress... back to DC. 

The point is DC takes risks with story and characters that have histories of 75-plus years. But part of the core of DC is and always has been legacy. There are certain characters, namely Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman who must ALWAYS remain. That's just the way it is. But legacy has always been integral to DC's core. So to see them bringing that back is exciting.

There are plenty of rumors surrounding exactly what rebirth will entail... will Classic Pre-Flashpoint Superman emerge as the one true Superman? Will the original World War 2 era Justice Society of America be revived and retake their rightful place? The possibilities are endless and with the New 52 update of some elements of the DC Universe as the basic framework, this could truly be a big step in the right direction.

For me, the one thing that always set DC apart was that it was the place you went for optimism, hope and a sense of wonder. As a reader and fan, I've felt that has been missing in the New 52 until recently. Part of that to me is the state of Superman. The Man of Steel sets the tone for the DC Universe, whether editorial and creators know it or not. If he's brooding or angry or sad or even slightly dark, the ENTIRE DC Universe follows suit. That's what happened with the New 52. We had a Superman that was darker, angrier and a bit more brutal. He was more fists than brains and ultimately, the entire line shifted that way initially.

Superman is the key to everything DC. Look at the movies. My feelings for Man of Steel notwithstanding (I am not a fan), it sets the tone for a violent, dark and ultimately spectacle-rich movie experience. The proof? The next two movies. The first features two superheroes fighting and the second is a movie about villains.

So if Rebirth is indeed bringing back this Classic Superman in more of a mainstream role, you're going to see a giant shift in the tone of the DC Universe, especially since this Superman now has a son. It's really kind of exciting as a fan.

This idea of Superman being the key to it all also suggests to me that there is some veracity in those rumors about WB being concerned about Batman v. Superman.

What do I think caused this shift? The Flash TV show.

More than a decade ago, Christopher Nolan's Batman films began. The first two are good movies that sort of capture the essence of Batman. Their popularity and serious tone suggested that's what fans wanted and everything started to shift that way. But Batman doesn't set the tone of the DC Universe and since then, DC has struggled to find the right footing. Nolan's films are their own thing. They do a lot of masterful things, but at their core they are slightly embarrassed by the source material.

Contrast that to The Flash, Arrow, Legends of Tomorrow and Supergirl TV shows and you see a more full-on embrace of what makes DC great. The Flash is DC at its best. Melodramatic, epic, funny, adventurous, action-packed, serious and wacky. That's DC.

These shows are immensely popular because of that. They embrace what makes DC great. They aren't super-serious grimdark (Arrow was at first, but it was also very in line with Mike Grell's GA). It's the same formula Marvel uses for the movies and TV... just embrace what these are: comics.

Say what you will, but there are a lot of hard-working people at DC that really do work tirelessly to try and keep the market afloat. To try different things with these characters, to explore and experiment. But sales haven't been great.

Even as they make big changes to try and be more inclusive to attract new readers, I have serious questions about whether or not those readers and people who called for and praised change even bothered to show up at the stores with their wallets ready. Maybe they bought the trades. That's great, but not going to sustain the industry. First and foremost, DC is a business and they must sustain.

It's funny, as DC launched DC You in an effort to change the brand, it featured Superman losing his powers but still doing whatever he could to be Superman. He was still fighting, out these trying to make a difference. That's exactly what DC was doing, proving once again Superman was setting the tone. And with his powers being restored and Classic Superman being brought into the fold, it feels like a return to greatness and here comes rebirth... an "ongoing mission" to remain true to DC's DNA.

There's a lot I liked about the New 52. Namely, the crazy Wonder Woman mythology and putting old man Ollie to rest, making Green Arrow young again. I'm a big Green Arrow fan, but old man Ollie had run his course and I think Justice League: Cry for Justice proved that.

With all of this... a restored sense of hope and optimism coming to the DC Universe, there's a contingent of folks out there who are in constant attack mode when it comes to DC. That's too bad. No matter what DC does, they can't win and that's just too bad. Whether it's a satire site that just points out DC's own follies, or a rumor site looking to pat itself on the back... or a contingent of rightfully burned former employees or readers... there's just always a lot of negativity and lots of times at DC.

At the end of the day, I hope this changes things. I hope it drives people to stores or creates new conversations with great, big ideas. I do hope distribution changes and that DC can indeed hold prices at $2.99 and just sell a ton more comics. I hope the same for Marvel as well.

The truth is, for the industry to thrive, Marvel and DC need to thrive. Retailers need to thrive.

I love DC Comics. I love the DC Universe and I hope to play in it one day. But as a fan, I can't tell you the last time I missed an issue of Action Comics or Superman both out of love and habit.

Ultimately, the energy and initial buzz of DC Rebirth has me looking up to the sky once more.